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UK health cost body backs Novartis asthma drug in fresh U-turn

A logo is pictured on a building of Swiss drug maker Novartis before its annual general meeting in Pratteln near Basel February 22, 2013. RE
A logo is pictured on a building of Swiss drug maker Novartis before its annual general meeting in Pratteln near Basel February 22, 2013. RE

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's health cost-effectiveness watchdog NICE said it planned to recommend the use of Novartis's severe asthma drug Xolair after prevaricating for months over whether it should be paid for on the taxpayer-funded National Health Service (NHS).

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) said on Thursday it had reversed a November decision in the light of extra analyses and a move by Novartis to offer a so-called patient access scheme to discount Xolair's list price.

Xolair works by blocking immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies from attaching to allergens. When IgE attaches to an allergen, it sets off a process that eventually leads to an allergic reaction.

Asthma campaign groups welcomed NICE's decision.

"Xolair is the only treatment that works for some people with severe allergic asthma who would otherwise be virtually housebound because of breathlessness and living in constant fear of the next asthma attack," Samantha Walker of the charity Asthma UK said in a statement.

NICE said in November 2012 that it planned to recommend against the use of Xolair in the NHS, reversing an earlier plan to recommend it.

In a statement on Thursday, NICE said it had now decided to recommend Xolair, known generically as omalizumab, as an option for treating certain types of severe, persistent, allergic asthma in people aged six years and older as an add-on to the maximum standard therapy.

It said this would be allowed only if Novartis makes omalizumab available with the agreed patient access scheme discount, but did not disclose the level of that discount.

Xolair's list price is 256.15 pounds ($390) for a 150 milligram (mg) vial and 128.07 pounds ($190) for a 75 mg vial. The dosage administered is 75-600 mg every two or four weeks, up to a maximum dosage of 600 mg every two weeks.

This means the cost of the drug ranges from around 1,665 pounds ($2,500) per patient per year to approximately 26,640 pounds ($40,300) per patient per year.

NICE said its final decision had not yet been issued in guidance to the NHS and noted that it could still change in the event of an appeal. It said final guidance is expected to be published in April 2013.

(Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Paul Casciato)

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